My Top Ten Reads of 2019

I’m a little late posting this because work, Christmas, a birthday, sickness, and New Year’s Eve get-together, all conspired to keep me busy but it was all good except the sickness part. But it’s only January 2nd, right? I’m right on time.

I’m often asked about what I read and can I recommend books or authors so I thought I’d put out a list this year. There were so many good books it was hard to choose so I’ve included some runners-up too because really I can’t contain it to ten. Here are my top reads from 2019, in no particular order. 

  1. There You’ll Find Me by Jenny B. Jones 

       Genre: YA  Format: Audiobook 

This book is deceiving in the fact you think you’re getting a book about a girl spending a year in Ireland who meets a Hollywood bad boy and they fall in love. But it is so much more – this story has so many layers and I was pleasantly surprised by how deep the story went. Jenny B. Jones has long been one of my favourite YA Christian authors and I would read just about anything she writes.

2. The Reckoning of Gossamer Pond by Jamie Jo Wright

Genre: Christian Fiction/Mystery/Historical  Format: Print

I love how this author weaves the past and present together and isn’t afraid to touch onto the hard topics. This is the second book I’ve read by her and I am looking forward to reading more.

3. Just Look Up by Courtney Walsh

Genre: Christian Romance  Format: Audiobook

Again a romance with so much more to the story beyond the swoon – broken families, broken people and hope for them to become whole. I liked this so much, I read more by this author this year. 

4. How to Catch a Prince and Princess Ever After by Rachel Hauck

Genre: Christian Romance  Format: Audiobook

I love any story involving a royal lineage and this whole series, Royal Wedding, does not disappoint. 

5. The Printed Letter Bookshop by Katherine Reay

Genre: Adult Fiction  Format: Print

This is the third or fourth book I’ve read by this author and she never disappoints. 

6. Past Perfect Life by Elizabeth Eulberg

Genre:YA  Format: Print

This story had such a twist that it was like WOW! Changed the whole course of the what I thought I was getting. A great example of why I love YA lit.

7. Five Feet Apart by Rachael Lippincott

Genre: YA  Format: Print

A story of love in it’s most unselfish form. Read the book, watch the movie.

8. 10 Blind Dates by Ashley Elston

Genre: YA  Format: Print

A fun holiday (Christmas) read.

9. Maybe This Time by Kasie West

Genre: YA  Format: Print

Love Kasie West and particularly this story where the timing is never right, until it is.

10. Save the Date by Morgan Matson

Genre: YA  Format: Print

A little romance and a whole lot of family dynamics in this story. 

Runners-up:  Vigilant by Sara Davison

Genre: Romantic Suspense Format: e-book

Love Sara because she always writes outside the box and this book is no exception.

The Valiant Series by Lesley Livingston

Genre: YA  Format: Print

This series is about female Gladiators in the era of Caesar and Cleopatra. Really entertaining and fascinating to read about that time period. Warning: these books contained some mature content and would probably not fall under the clean genre.

As I look over my list, these books are about imperfect people who are striving to become better and imperfect families that read very true-to-lfe because they are messy, loud, and sometimes painful. It wasn’t intentional on my part but I guess that’s where my head is right now.

I did read a few non-fiction books as well. My favourite was Hillbilly Elegy by J.D.Vance.  Runner-up Becoming by Michelle Obama.

Happy Reading in 2020! What books are you going to read in this new decade?

When Jesus Isn’t the Easy Answer

Yeah it’s been a while. I know. But here I am back at the computer after a self-imposed hiatus. Or maybe it was divinely imposed. I’m not really sure.

I’m sitting here, because I’ve been reading a kick butt book that is worth the time to read it. The thing is I can’t seem to get it finished because Barnabas Piper keeps writing things that make me stop and have to think about what he’s said. Help My Unbelief has shaken my already shaky foundation of what true belief is.

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Today as I was reading at the pool, while the boys had their swimming lessons, Piper was talking about how we all have stories but each are different. The how and why we came to believe is unique to each of us but the common thread in all our stories is HIM. We all know this but for whatever reason, the truth of that statement became truth in my heart today not just my mind. (Another thing Piper talks about in the book.)

As I thought about my ongoing story and other people’s stories, I realized that none of these tales of lives lived, some well and some not so much, are easy. That Jesus, contrary to popular belief, is not the easy answer so many people like to think He is. Many people say they don’t follow Jesus because He’s a crutch for weaker individuals. I beg to differ. If you’ve ever tried to do the right thing when everyone around you is telling you the opposite thing, it becomes clear that Jesus ain’t no crutch. Steal the money. Lie your way out. Take another look. Revenge is sweet. Small things really. They seem easy. It’s not like murder or adultery. Try again. It’s the small things that trip you up and lead you down the path to the biggies.

Living a life that is surrendered to Him is not the easy answer. Letting go of what you want to do and then acting on behalf of God takes a lot of effort. It’s not always fun either.

For one thing it will cost you. Big time. I recently heard a speaker at a conference express great passion that “risking for Jesus” was worth it. Everyone was nodding their heads yes. I was shaking my head no. It’s not that I’m saying we shouldn’t risk our lives for Jesus. It’s just that some days risking it all for Jesus does not seem worth it. It leads to pain. It leads to suffering. It leads to questions there may not be answers to. (Piper says that’s okay because God is an infinite God and we are finite so we can’t ever know or understand everything. I had to think about this for a bit.) Some days it really hurts to risk – to risk a move across the country, to risk a job, to risk a relationship, to risk a dream – for God. Because in the real Christian life, there is no guarantee it will work out.

God never guaranteed that. He did guarantee eternal life for those who choose to believe and follow Him. He guaranteed that He would never leave us or forsake us. No matter what. He did not guarantee the world’s version of success.

Jesus is not the easy answer when you choose gratitude and grace over a negative attitude or revenge. Try being truly grateful when all you really want to do is to whine and complain and maybe sucker punch someone. 🙂 (Wait. Pastor’s wives don’t really do that kind of thing, right?) Maybe it’s just me, but choosing grace and thankfulness is not easy. Choosing Jesus over negativity and complaints is very difficult.

Jesus is not the easy answer when you choose to be brave. Because chances are, you’re facing down some big giants. David chose God over Goliath. He chose to go up against someone who hated God because David believed God was bigger than any Philistine. God deserved the glory due Him. David decided that fighting the giant was worth it. Choosing Jesus means you’re not walking away from life or it’s hardships and wounds. It means you’re going to deal with them, at some point or another. The Jesus I know, is not one who deals in fantasy. He deals in truth. He wants you to know the truth of your life and the truth of Himself as well.

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Choosing Jesus means you’re going to get to know Him. Because honestly, He died for you so he’s not going to let you walk away, especially when all you want to do is run in the opposite direction.

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He’s going to keep coming after you. It may be beautiful. It may be messy. It will be scary. Because you are going to meet the God of heaven and earth in a very personal way. It’s the reason we were all created. It should be scary in a very awesome sort of way.

Finally back to the idea that sometimes there is no answer for what is going on in the world and in our lives. At least not an answer we will know now. Why that diagnosis? Why that world disaster? Why that trauma? Why that loss? In these circumstances Jesus is the only answer we have. It’s not an easy answer. Not when we want closure or disclosure. Instead it’s an answer…just maybe not to the question we’re asking, which isn’t easy. It means we have to trust that He will be enough and that He’s got the answer which He’s choosing not to tell us right now. For those in that position, it is incredibly hard. It may shake your very foundations. And that’s okay. I believe our God can handle any questions, doubts or anger we may have.

People who live out that Jesus is not the easy answer at times, make me stop. They make me want to weep and inspire me forward at the same time. Because these people are living, breathing examples of people who believe. It’s not just lip service. They may not have it all together and their belief may have some doubts, but they hang on to Jesus because He is the only answer they are willing to bet on.

I really recommend picking up a copy of Piper’s Book.  Help My Unbelief: Why Doubt Is Not The Enemy of Faith by Barnabas Piper, 2015  

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It started with Veronica Roth’s trilogy, Divergent.  The addiction was subtle and quick.  I can’t stop reading these dystopian trilogies.  I’ve always loved young adult fiction and I can’t keep my hands off the “new” crop of titles.  (Some are not so new but when you have little kids, well, you lose about ten years of reading time.)  My house is not getting any cleaner.

However the fiction is rich with themes and ideas. Reading with “older” eyes and more experience in life, makes it that much more meaningful.  Recently I finished the Matched trilogy by Ally Condie.  Good.  The story was enthralling and tense (I had to look ahead. I’m no purist when it comes to reading the ending at the end.)  The writing was…let’s just say that Condie is really good at her craft.  This trilogy had something that some of the others have missed.  It had hope.  It had the promise of change.  I started writing down quotes that kept jumping out at me.

In one chapter, Cassia, one of the main characters, has a choice.  She can either stay where she is or she can take a risk and go someplace else.  As she debates with herself, she thinks, “You cannot change your journey if you are unwilling to move at all.” (Reached, Ally Condie, p. 232.)  It stopped me mid-paragraph.  I had to go read it again.  Truth.  Our journeys remain the same if we continue in the same direction.  To change our journey, we have to put ourselves on a new, different course.  You may not want to change your journey.  Not all of us need to.  But some of us, do.

I’ve needed to change my journey a few times.  The paths were either not where I wanted to go or were leading in a direction that the end result was going to be destructive, not just for myself but those I loved.  I had to be willing to move out of my comfort zone, the desire to blame others and circumstances as well as my fear.  Change can only happen if we let it. Sometimes we are the biggest obstacle to our ourselves.  I’ll admit, I’ve stayed frozen in place, walking the same path more often than I’d care to admit.

Willingness, as Condie writes, is key.  In being willing, we are being brave.  Being willing to change, opens the door to let in the light.  Lies are revealed.  Tapes we’ve been listening to for far too long suddenly sound warped.  We’re incapable of change. This is just who we are.  You are living in a fairy tale if you think it’s gonna change.  These falsehoods are the enemy’s snares to keep us trapped in mediocre lives.  In defeated lives.  In our comfort zones.  But the moment we are willing to change, the light reveals the holes in the lies and the dust bunnies in our zones.  It might be time for an airing out.

Willingness also makes us take ownership of what we are responsible for in our lives.  It guides us to place where we let go of blame.  Yeah, the world can throw us some really hard curves but it can’t dictate how we respond.  Blaming keeps us under a rock.  It pulls us down when we could be soaring.  Being willing to change helps us kick off the chains, whatever they might be, that drag us back to the pit.

Finally being willing to change means we are willing to stand up to the worst bully ever, our fear.  That icy hand that holds us pinned and paralyzed, afraid to turn left or right.  Scared to move.  Being willing to start the process of change in ourselves means we’re ready to move forward despite our fear.  We’ll fight it because it’s losing it’s grip on us.

It’s so hard to change.  That one little sentence seems so innocuous.  Being willing to change so your journey can take on a whole new shape or message, will be a ton of work.  It might require some help from others.  It might require trusting God.  Which can be scary.  The question we need to ask ourselves is; where do I want to end up?  The destination I’m headed now or somewhere totally new?  Maybe someplace great?  Better than we’d ever imagined?

In my own experience, the hard work is definitely worth the pain, sweat and tears.  There’s gonna be a lot of that!  A journey requires work, effort, preparation.  To change a course takes even more intentionality.  Letting life happen to you doesn’t work.  Taking responsibility for our actions, our choices, our words, and attitudes, does.

Changing our journey doesn’t mean it’s suddenly all a rose-coloured picnic.  It does mean that we are in charge of us. I am in control of me and how I respond, instead of letting circumstances and people be the masters that enslave me.  I can be willing to move so I end up in a place I want to be.  A place where I can discover who I was created to be.

In Case You Need Something to Read…I’ve Got a Couple of Suggestions

I have always thought it would be cool to be a librarian.  I love books, scouring over pictures and artwork, reading stories that take me to faraway places and into worlds I had never even imagined.  Today I stroked it off my bucket list.  I am a volunteer librarian at our kids’ school. We have to put in so many hours of volunteer work at the school and what better place than the library?  And book geek that I am, I was totally thrilled that I got my own library card!

This morning as I read stories and helped kids find books to read, I felt a tremendous satisfaction.  There’s nothing more exciting than giving a child a book and seeing the potential of the two coming together; child with imagination and book.  I’ve seen it happen with my own boys.  A book, a story that captures the imagination can set in motion so many things, it will blow your mind!  Comics or pictures are drawn, new battles acted out with light sabres or lego-mini figs.  Storylines are set in motion for all kinds of play.  Ideas attach themselves to other books or things read.   It’s a tremendous thing to witness.

Setting up books on the table to spotlight, I pulled Jane Eyre out and put it in a prominent place.  I have a degree in English and some of the classics are so good, I just had to dust off their covers.  I knew some girl would see Jane and take her home.  As I checked out the books, Jane showed up with some other books.  I smiled at the girl and said, “That’s such a good book!”

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Surprisingly, another child had pulled Pride and Prejudice off the shelf!  I smiled secretly.  I know these girls will find good friends among these stories.  Yeah I know I totally sound like a book nerd.  I’m okay with that.

Since I’m talking about books, I wanted to share a couple of books I’ve read or been reading that you really shouldn’t miss out on.  I took the summer to savour, Angie Smith’s Chasing God.  You have to read this a chapter at a time because she gives you so much to think about.  I really had to go back and rethink what I knew or thought I knew about God.  I had to question whether it was man-made up or truth?  It was a process of rediscovering who God is and isn’t.  Angie Smith is real and funny and not afraid of the hard questions!  I haven’t shelved it yet because I want to read it again.  It had that much in it!  I loved this book.

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The second book is Atlas Girl by Emily Wierenga.  She’s a fellow Canadian and half of the story takes place around the area I grew up.  The names of towns and scenery was familiar.  It’s her memoir and I’ve eaten it up, almost done.  It’s gritty and raw as she writes about her battle with anorexia and childhood neglect.  How she nursed her mom, who had brain cancer.  It’s not depressing at all because all along her journey, God doesn’t lose sight of Emily.  She too, asks the hard questions.  It’s the kind of book where at the end, you just want to have a coffee with her.  Seriously.

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Both Smith and Wierenga, in telling their own stories and struggles, give us permission as readers, to ask our own questions.  To go to God and say, “I don’t get this”, “Why?” and “Help my unbelief”.  It shatters some of the stereotypes out there that because we follow Jesus, we have to have all the answers.  Good news is, we don’t.  He’s so much bigger than our questions.  He can handle them.  It’s okay to ask.  Maybe sometimes even shout them.  He’s got it.

There are so many good books out there, that my pile of Have to Reads is going to be taller than I am soon!  So much to read and so little time!  I might have to make room at the top of the pile for Jane though.  It’s been a while.